Joker sees the classic Batman villain take centre stage in his own solo movie. The Joker is one of those characters that’s been around for decades, and has a whole host of stories that focus on him. But with so many comics focusing on him, where’s the best place to start? Well, here are five of the best to check out.
One of the most iconic Joker stories, A Death In The Family showcases how brutally ruthless the character can be. Despite being one of the most iconic Joker stories ever it actually focuses on Jason Todd, the second Robin. Having grown-up alone on the streets of Gotham, Todd is on a quest to find his mother. However, during this journey he’s kidnapped by the Joker, and eventually killed.
One of the things that made this story stand out was that there were two possible endings: one in which Jason died, and the other where he lived. Readers were able to phone into DC and vote on which ending they wanted, and ultimately chose for Jason to die.
This was one of the first times a major Batman character was killed off (even though it didn’t stick and Jason is now alive again), and the writers didn’t pull any punches as they had the Joker brutally beat Jason with a crowbar before collapsing a building on him. It really went to show how much of a threat the character can actually be.
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Set in a much darker, more realistic version of Gotham, the book follows the Joker after he’s newly released from Arkham Asylum. Told from the point of view of a low level thug who the Joker takes a liking to, the story shows the crazed villain starting a war with the other gang leaders in the city. Joker hardly features Batman at all, with the story caring more about watching the path of destruction the Joker makes and how he ruins one man’s life.
The book also stands out thanks to the amazing art by Lee Bemejo. Grim and dirty, yet incredibly elegant, it showed the city and the characters in ways that we’d never seen before. Joker was also noted as the likely inspiration for Heath Ledger’s look in The Dark Knight, as the designs are almost identical.
Possibly the most iconic Joker story ever told, The Killing Joke has been released multiple times and adapted into an animated movie. The cover is also one of the best known Joker images.
The Killing Joke tells an origin for the character that depicts him as a failing stand-up comedian who is trying to support his pregnant wife. Turning to crime to try and raise money he becomes part of the Red Hood gang. As part of this gang he falls afoul of the caped crusader, and falls into a vat of chemicals that transforms him into the Joker. In the present day the Joker hatches a plan to send Commissioner Gordon crazy. To this end he kidnaps and tortures Gordon, showing him the photographs of his daughter Barbara, who the Joker has shot in the stomach.
The Killing Joke had a lasting affect on Barbara Gordon, who was crippled by the wound. Unable to carry on as Batgirl, she would go on to be the hero Oracle. Whilst this was eventually changed during the New 52 relaunch, this change lasted for decades, and made the book an important part of the Batman mythos.
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Set after Batman: Year One, this story aims to tell the first confrontation between Batman and the Joker. Still new into his career as a crime fighter, Batman is drawn into a mystery involving mutilated corpses, and a clown that’s threatening to murder several key figures in Gotham City. The Man Who Laughs showcases how cunning and intelligent the Joker is, as he utilises his knowledge of chemistry to poison people across the city.
The Man Who Laughs is a great book for showing both the Joker and Batman in a less physical confrontation. The book isn’t about the Joker being a physical foe for Batman to fight, but a looming threat that’s lurking in the background for most of the book. It’s a good revamping of the character’s first appearance, and whilst it offers hints as to his origin it doesn’t focus on this, something that many fans prefer for the character.
The biggest story on this list, Death of the Family spanned more than 20 issues across several different titles as the Joker aims to destroy all of Batman’s extended family in order to leave the Dark Knight standing alone against him. In this story the Joker believes that Batman has come to rely on his group of sidekicks, multiple Robins, Nightwing, Batgirl, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner Gordon to name just a few, and wants them gone.
This story was the first time that the character had really appeared in the DC Universe since their relaunch, having made a brief appearance in issue 1. This story showcased what is likely to be the most shocking version of the character, where he’s had his face cut off and is now wearing it as a mask.
During the course of the story the Joker put the various members of the Bat Family through psychological and mental torture that almost broke them. One of the most shocking things about the title was how he broke Alfred, brainwashing him into siding with the Joker, and even cutting his hand off. One of the most shocking Joker titles by far, it stands out as one of the all time great Joker stories.
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